The Rev. Canon Rod BrantFrancis and the Rev. Lisa BrantFrancis are now serving as the incumbent and priest associate, respectively, for the Parish of Tyendinaga, marking a return to full-time ministry in the parish for the Diocese of Ontario. Submitted photo by Mark Hauser

Ontario diocese boosts ministry in Mohawk territory

Deepening its ties with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, the Anglican Diocese of Ontario has allocated funds from its Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corporation (ACCRC) return to support local First Nations art and culture as well as ministry in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Drawing upon its approximately $115,000 return to promote ministry among the Mohawk population was a natural move for the Diocese of Ontario. This decision stems from the diocese’s commitment to healing and reconciliation and its proximity to and connection with the Tyendinaga territory.

The Anglican Parish of Tyendinaga includes All Saints’ Church and Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal of the Mohawk.

“We have a long… heritage [and relationship] with the [Mohawk] people here, so for us, that’s a natural focus,” diocesan executive officer Alex Pierson said.

Supporting arts and culture

Reflecting the importance of the thriving cultural and art practices in Tyendinaga—and spurred by an individual affiliated with the church who works with the territory’s annual art festival—local First Nations art and artists were an important and obvious area to support financially.

“The [diocese recognizes] that by bringing [financial support] forward, we are supporting the community that was harmed [by the Indian residential school system], and we’re also bringing that to the fore for our people to understand.”

Jonathan Maracle, a Mohawk musician from Tyendinaga, performs at the most recent Ontario diocesan synod. Submitted photo by Mark Hauser

The diocese recently became one of the principal sponsors of the annual arts festival held on the territory, which brings together Indigenous artists in a variety of media, ranging from sketches and paintings to woodcarvings.

Helping to promote the musical element of the festival, the diocese sponsored a music competition in which participants wrote songs in either of two categories—a traditional hymn or anthem, and a children’s song or campfire song—and received a fair number of entries. At the next diocesan synod, Anglicans heard the two winning entries, which included a performance by well-known composer Jonathan Maracle.

Healing and reconciliation was a major focus at the synod, which also included participation in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, an activity that uses blankets to teach how colonialism has effected Canada’s Indigenous people and their relationship with the land.

“The song that was written [by Maracle] talked about residential school … There were a lot of tears as that was performed,” Pierson said. “It helped bring that [history] to light and to understanding.”

Return to full-time ministry

Along with the arts, the diocese also used funds from its ACCRC return to bring back full-time ministry in the Tyendinaga territory.

Following the departure of its previous incumbent in October 2015, the Parish of Tyendinaga found itself in a position where it could no longer afford full-time ministry.

“We felt that there was still a strong opportunity to grow the ministry there, and also to grow the congregation,” Pierson said. “At that point, we had again what we believed to be the Spirit moving.”

Enter the Rev. Canon Rod BrantFrancis and the Rev. Lisa BrantFrancis. The married couple had both been ordained at All Saints’ Church, while Lisa had grown up on the Tyendinaga territory. After they applied for the vacant position, the diocese hired Rod as the new incumbent and Lisa as priest associate for the parish.

“We’re actually building specific [outcomes] for our ministry or our objectives that we want to achieve in supplementing the ministry on the Tyendinaga territory,” Pierson said.

“Because of the way Rod and Lisa work, it basically brings you two priests working to grow the ministry there and to minister the people, and to the people that aren’t Anglicans or aren’t regularly attending.”

Tyendinaga has a very active parish community and includes a number of notable worship and learning events each year, from Evensong to the attendance of the bishop at the annual Mohawk landing, which celebrates the original arrival of the Mohawk from the United States during the American Revolution.

Moving forward

Additional funds still remain in the diocese’s ACCRC return, with a myriad of possible uses all dedicated to healing and reconciliation locally. One possible focus revolves around how it might better support Indigenous people from northern communities who come through Kingston to obtain medical services.

As it plans to move into a new synod office, the diocese will be commissioning an artist from the Bay of Quinte Mohawks to produce a piece of art that will serve as a centrepiece display in the new office focusing on truth and reconciliation.

“It’s not a one-time shot,” Pierson said of the diocese’s careful management of its return, adding, “Our intention is that that will go on for some number of years.”

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